Brutally Honest Insights on a Wild Year in the Streaming Wars

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Phil Provencio for Variety

When the history of the so-called streaming wars is eventually written, 2020 will be looked back on as an absolutely pivotal period.

That’s what prompted the final episode of the year for Variety podcast “Strictly Business” to dispense with the usual guest interview and instead feature a marathon monologue filled with candid assessments of how all the major players in the category are faring heading into 2021, from the stratospheric rise of Disney Plus to the ignominious end of Quibi.

2020 was the year streaming incumbents like Netflix and Amazon were swarmed by new combatants, including HBO Max, Apple TV Plus and Peacock. And there’s still more coming next year, with Discovery Plus launching next week and Paramount Plus expected at ViacomCBS.

The podcast episode’s extensive analysis starts with the pandemic, which prompted a surge in streaming usage just as the competitive field was expanding. COVID-19 also gave media conglomerates license to radically reorient how their businesses were structured to focus primarily on streaming.

Among the insights shared in the episode:

  • While Netflix is riding high on the strength of its amazing knack for generating hit programming of all kinds, you have to ask whether there’s nowhere to go but down for the leading streaming service.
  • Disney Plus is well-poised to build on a great 2020, given the wealth of content the company previewed at its recent presentation to investors, setting up a Netflix vs. Disney rivalry that will come into focus in 2021.
  • WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar made a breathtakingly audacious move in December to put first-run movies on HBO Max throughout 2021, but there’s ample questions to be asked as to whether he went too far.
  • Apple TV Plus seems to have shaken off a slow start, but what makes the service a dangerous competitor is the potential for the tech giant to acquire a rival streaming service or buy a studio like MGM.
  • The plethora of streaming services in the marketplace calls into question just how many of these consumers will allow to co-exist and whether more bundles are on the way.

Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.